Dear PoP: Pop-up Restaurant Readers Beware

Photo by PoPville flickr user sciascia

“Dear PoP,

Wanted to pass along a word of warning to your readers about “pop-up” restaurants in DC.

Last night we went to the “elusive” Orange Arrow dinner. The Washington Post featured an article on these dinners last spring and we were looking forward to an avant garde dinner in a secret location. We had already purchased non-refundable tickets ($60PP) and were excited to try the seasonal menu we were promised.

After arriving to the address on the ticket (Georgetown), we receive an “update” that the dinner is in fact in the H Street Corridor! We show up to an art gallery in Trinidad and find a few other dinners lined-up.

Once we enter we find a cash bar (meal was sold as all inclusive…) where they are selling in essence two buck chuck and beer left over from St. Patrick’s day (Harp Lager in St. Patrick’s day bottling)…

The first course comes and with no explanation we are served what in essence is bar garnishes and mozzerala from Costco.

Second course was undercooked pork (still raw in the center).

Third course were brownie bites (again clearly from costco) with the paper still on the bottom.

Needless to say, we walked out after this, realizing that this was a clear swindle and there was no way to get a refund. Unfortunately this is a great concept, that could be very cool, but is being exploited by what amount to scam artists.”

Reviews on Yelp are equally underwhelming. Has anyone else had a bad experience? Has anyone had a good experience? Are there other pop up restaurants worth trying out?

62 Comment

  • These things are well known swindles. You are lucky you got any food at all. I’ve heard horror stories where people pay upfront and then never hear from the “organizers” again, who simply change the name of their operation and do it again next month.

    The ones that actually bother serving you food are just as you said. Someone collects ~$60-$70 per person, then goes to Costco and buys a bunch of premade food. Actual cost of your dinner…$4 dollars.

    There are a couple honest to god ones, but unless you personally know the person organizing it, it is a real risk.

    • Completely depends. I went to the Jain pop-up dinner that was covered in the WashPost and it was a fantastic meal. BYOB, but was well advertised beforehand.

  • That sucks. Sorry. I was wondering what was up with these things– thanks for reporting it.

  • i know people in the bay area that have participated in these and have had great experiences – makes sense though that because of its underground nature there might be some rip-off ones in the mix. too bad.

    • Most of these work by word-of-mouth. That is, you actually know the host. That’s how you avoid scams. Sadly, DC doesn’t have enough of a permanent community to really make these viable.

      • way to perpetuate the myth.

      • The only permanent community in DC is a bunch of terrible congressmen.

        • Why are there so many miserable people who troll this website?

          I’ve lived here my whole life. I know many others who have been here for 5, 10, 20, years.

          You all sound like you need to crawl back into the hole from which you came.

          • DC is a particularly transient city. The fact that you know many people who have been here five years speaks to that. In Little Rock there are few people, outside of five year olds, who have been there a mere five years.

          • Is there a point you’re trying to make?

            The point I’m making is the following statements are made: “In DC _____ sucks/doesnt happen/isnt like it is in ___” and then b.) “This is because DC is so transient”.

            A.) its probably not true and DC is nearly certainly better than wherever you’re comparing it to.
            B.) DC isnt that transient, its just YOU thats transient. Now go home.

          • +1 Anon @2:06

          • If you’ve lived here your whole life, then it’s time for you to wake up! You’ve been sleeping for however many years you’ve been in the District of Columbia. Stop sitting in front of your little computer all day. Get out and be active in your community, however transient it may be. Life is short, and its people like you with such bitterness that make people want to leave after just a few short years here. Make a difference in your community instead of sitting around in front of the computer all day eating potato chips and drinking quarter juice.

          • What are you talking about? You’re making no sense and learn. to. read.

          • I too have lived here my whole life and know many people who have as well. I think the most interesting people though, are those who have traveled the world and decided to ultimately make DC their home.

            I think it’s important for transplants to this city to understand why things are the way they are. DC is in the middle of a complete transition – the mere fact that the population has doubled in the last 20 years (after 20-30 years of post-riot blight) gives the city a unique energy that was previously absent (or at least dormant). The change has been in the making for years and we can thank Mayor Williams for truly turning this city around. He laid the foundation upon which Fenty worked to bring us the amazing libraries, rec centers, bike lanes, clean streets and businesses that we all love (or I should say, “some love,” since there are always nay-sayers)

            Neighborhoods have come to life again, like U Street, Logan, Adams Morgan, Bloomingdale, Ledroit Park, Shaw, Mt. Vernon, NoMa, etc. These were all either in total disrepair or just non-existant just 15 years ago and that’s pretty amazing to me.

            If you move here not knowing anything about the city, you don’t have the perspective. Yes, there is crime, graffiti, drugs and trash – but isn’t that the constant struggle of most cities? I’m not asking you guys to “give DC a break” but I’m asking you to appreciate the amazing things this city has to offer like the monuments, museums, trails, parks, history, parks, etc.

            This city is amazing – and if only congress cared enough to see that then I think things would turn out very differently for us. In the meantime – we gotta fight!

  • Too bad. There is a really successful group of ex-pats in Paris that does something similar.

    It’s called Hidden Kitchen –

    I think they charge about 75 Euros for dinner w/o wine. I emailed with the owners a few months ago and understand that they typically book up about 3-6 months in advance too.

    • +1 for Hidden Kitchen, for anyone who is going to Paris. Phenomenal meal, good wine, wonderful company (mix of other tourists from around the world and a couple of locals).

  • me

    Am I the only one that’s never heard of these pop-up restaurants??

  • nothing about a secret dinner party appeals to me. you have no idea what you’re eating and no idea where? no thanks. too many places i want to go but haven’t checked out yet.

    still, sorry you got screwed. that’s all messed up.

    • +1. whats the point? i can go to any restaurant in the city and know what i am getting. btw, chima is $50 all u can eat meat and salad – what a better deal.

    • Having participated in something like this in another city, the idea is more about getting a wide circle of friends and acquaintances together than having a “secret” dinner party. That is, the host/ess has a large and disparate social circle (friends of friends generally become involved) and hosts dinner parties. Instead of worrying about who gets an invitation for each, an email goes out to everyone and it’s decided more like making reservations at a restaurant. That is, whoever can make it that night (and is interested in the menu) responds and attends.

      It’s a great way to meet new people and have a fun time.

      • that’s a whole different thing than what is described in the post. what you describe happens frequently here. the post has described a business.
        think raves, vs house parties. very different.

        • I disagree. Dinners were always charged for (usually $15-20, though) and or there was a BYO policy. (Sometimes both.) I realize the line here is pretty grey, but this was definitely more of a business, even if the customers were all acquaintances of the host.

          • It doesn’t sound like the OP is a friend, acquaintence or friend-of-a-friend.

          • It seems like that would be just to cover the cost of the ingredients, though, so more akin to a kegger where people drop $5 at the door. These people are making an obscene profit, are probably not paying taxes, and aren’t licensed.

          • elle,
            ok. i see what you’re saying.
            sounds fun.

  • I’ve never heard of a pop-up restaurant, but it sounds exactly like the kind of thing I would get excited about/fall for. I appreciate this posting – now I know to be careful about these.

  • Would you go to a restaurant that doesn’t have a license of any kind or insurance or meet any basic code requirements? Er, no. Then why would you go to one of these places? And before people start saying “well, you eat at your friend’s and they don’t have any of that stuff” just remember that your friends don’t charge you and they know you.

    • +1… I’m surprised that these are even legal? What about food safety, do they get inspections?

      Also paying for a meal over PayPal weeks in advance of actually eating said meal seems like a red-flag for a scam.

      • Well, they’re *not* legal. Hence the whole “underground” thing. These only make sense if you have some connection to the group offering the dinner (a known culinary group, friends-of-friends, etc.). To pay up otherwise is screaming for a ripoff.

  • bfinpetworth

    An example of a “legit” pop-up restaurant:

  • I’m in the “what’s the point?” camp. I suppose some people are just dying to be in on the hippest, coolest, cutting-edgiest thing in town, but it just seems kinda silly to me.

    As has been said, I’d prefer (especially at $60pp) to eat at a place I’ve been waiting to try, where they have an established menu…

    This is sort of akin to prepaying for tickets to a band TBD (or it might be a poetry reading, or a mime festival. you’ll find out the night of). And it’s either at 9:30, or in the park, or in my basement. Dress appropriately.

    Sorry to got scammed, though.

    • Yep. Getting scammed sux, but there’s a certain element of “be glad they only took you for $60” when you pre-pay a non-refundable sum to people with no permanent location or any of the standard indicia of restaurant quality/reliability/service/cleanliness standards on the recommendation of a WaPo feature and a desire to be avant garde. Sometimes it’s just a canvas smeared with sh*t, after all, and calling it avant garde doesn’t make it stink any less.

  • So it seems Orange Line is a scam – are there any legit ones in DC?

  • I think sometimes this kind of thing works out, and works out well. I support a gallery in the Bay Area via a monthly subscription service, and they send one piece of artwork a month. I’ve loved everything I’ve gotten, and if I didn’t, well, I am supporting the artists.

    That said, no way in the world would I do this with food. It’s a (possibly literal) crapshoot. Forget that nonsense.

    Please submit your $75 to me for a Mysterious Fancy Feast Pate of the Month Experience.

  • I attended the dinner on Friday as well, and had a very different experience. However, I think I also had a better idea of what I was getting into prior to the date.

    It has changed from what it was last year (which I was worried about) and you can now sit with your friends if you attend the dinner together.

    I also knew ahead of time that you wouldn’t find out the dinner location until the night before – which was part of the fun.

    They chef was Carole Greenwood. I thought the food was very seasonal (as advertised) although I also had a few complaints (there were 2 entrees to choose from, and the people who chose pork got their meals about 20 minutes before the people who chose shrimp). I didn’t get a Costco vibe at all, but had it been a different situation, I think I would have been annoyed at paying $60 for those 3 courses. In a restaurant, it would have been more like a $40-$50 meal.

    It was a cash/credit bar and was a little overpriced and I wish it had been BYOB, but it might be in the future, I know they were working on that. That sort of needs to be sorted out.

    There was stuff I would change, but based on what it was, I thought it was fun and interesting. Definitely a once a year thing.

    • Oh, and the seating was a little cramped which wasn’t a good situation. Yes, you are trying to meet other people (which is also part of the plan) in a communal setting, but putting a table for 30 people in an apartment can be a little uncomfortable.

      • was it in a gallery or an apartment? did you two go to the same event?

        • It was an apartment, but was a 2 story open loft that had the feel of a gallery. I assume it is the same since it was Trinidad and there was only one Orange Arrow dinner that night.

          • I went to the one on Saturday (they had three over the weekend) which was in an art gallery…kind-of. I’m a frequent Costco shopper and immediately spotted the jug of Olive Oil, Olives and Mozzarella Balls. The dessert was also all Costco. The biggest let down to me was that Orange Arrow advertised the “chef” going to the Farmer’s Market to purchase the ingredients. They even emailed a video of her doing so to the ticket purchasers. As far as I could tell, it was all Costco. The excitement of the event, to me, was the “seasonal menu.” Huge let-down.

  • This kind of reminds me of Roger’s events in Silver Spring. You can get screwed with those too.

  • If you ever see something called “Tactile Dinner” you should go. Definitely more of a show/experience than dinner, though there’s some food involved. A friend took me and it was one of the craziest (in a good way) things I’ve been to in this town. It kindof mocks the whole pop-up dinner/foodie thing and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

  • I went to Orange Arrow last Thursday. Yes there were only two options per course and the timing was a bit off, but I expected all of that since it wasn’t a formal restaurant. Carol also made someone a vegetarian option, so there is some flexibility about the menu.

    Carole Greenwood previously worked at Buck’s Hunting and Fishing and Comet. The food was decent, the people were interesting and it was a fun experience.

    P.S. everything I saw said there would be a cash bar, so I was surprised. Beer was $4 and wine was $6 or $7.

  • i was there on friday. it was fun to meet new people and the grilled beef and pork and asparagus and corn were really delish. not sure i’d do it again for $60 but it was worth trying once esp since the host was a reputable chef. only thing that was kind of a downer was the guy who insisted on googling the beer and wine to find out ‘what they really cost’. buzzkill. was glad he left early. what ‘real’ restaurant doesn’t mark up their bevies? helloooo?

  • $4 harp? OUTRAGEOUS SCAM!!!

    • I for one am SHOCKED that BYT would like something like this. Shocked, I tells ya.

    • Word on the street is that something came up, and Orange Arrow had to change venues for saturday night. The new location didn’t have a kitchen, so in an effort to “improvise” the menu was drastically changed to accommodate. Saturday’s reviews are drastically less favorable to Thursday’s reviews, unless you write for BYT.

      In all honesty, the food on thursday night wasn’t bad. I wouldn’t say it was worth $60, but the ingredients were very seasonal, and everything had great flavor albeit nothing spectacular or mindblowing as I’d have hoped.

      They (née Carole) still have a lot of kinks to work out in terms of the logistics, but I was expecting far worse considering the previous Yelp reviews. I’d give it a few months, and it might actually be worth it.

  • So the notorious Carole Greenwood was behind this. Not at all surprised.

  • I attended the meal on Thursday night, won a contest to get a free seat and bring a guest. It was a bit chilly, but the evening definitely felt like a dinner party at a friends house. You met a good deal of diverse people, chipped in for wine, and the food wasn’t all timed quite right. Things were quite seasonal, asparagus, fennel, rhubarb strawberries. Things were slightly over salted but on the whole, a nice meal.

  • I was also in attendance on Saturday night… needless to say, I logged a complaint to the DC Department of Health and Better Business Bureau… I hope they get infiltrated at their next event.

  • that puppet is freaking me OUT.

  • I went to Orange Arrow on Friday April 15 and I had a really nice time.

    The food was great. First up was ham stuffed sausage with cheese grits, followed by strawberries and chocolate cake (cake was a tad dry but the strawberries were a nice balance, flavored with Rose water.)

    I am not sure what people were expecting, but I feel I got exactly what I was expecting; lots of good food, lots of wine, and some decent conversation outside the normal folks I talk to.

    I recommend checking it out.

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